Bush briefs congressional leaders on plans

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush brought congressional leaders up to date Tuesday on U.S. troop deployments around the globe and said the government was working to restore confidence in airline security and help workers thrown off the job. Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic ties with the terrorist-harboring rulers of Afghanistan.

Defiant, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization issued an early morning statement warning Washington against attacks against him or Afghanistan. "Wherever there are Americans and Jews, they will be targeted."

The statement was faxed to news organizations in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, in the name of al-Qaida's chief military commander, Naseer Ahmed Mujahed, and released less than 48 hours before the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews worldwide.

Consumer confidence in the U.S. economy fell sharply, fresh evidence of economic fallout from the worst terrorist attacks ever on American soil.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration had not yet decided whether to support a broad-based economic stimulus package, including tax cuts. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, meeting privately with senators, was quoted as saying that to be effective, any plan may need to be as large as $100 billion.

Two weeks to the day after attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, New Yorkers picked up politically where they had left off, choosing candidates for a November mayoral election. Term-limited Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, widely praised for his stewardship since the attacks, stoked speculation he might want to stay in the job.

The number of confirmed dead at the trade center, hit by hijacked jetliners, rose to 279. The number of missing stood at 6,398. Another 189 people perished at the Pentagon, hit in a similar attack, and 44 more died when a hijacked plane crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside.

"I think the war aims are clear," House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt said after he and other lawmakers met with Bush at the White House. "In a way, it's meeting guerrilla warfare with guerrilla warfare, but it's also meeting it with financial efforts, and political efforts, and diplomatic efforts," said the Missouri Democrat.

Saudi Arabia's move left Pakistan as the only nation in the world to maintain ties with the Taliban -- and Pakistan has pledged cooperation with the American-led war on terrorism. It leaves Afghanistan's hard-line Islamic regime ever more isolated in its showdown with the United States over bin Laden, the No. 1 suspect in the attacks.

Separate from Saudi Arabia's move, Russian President Vladimir Putin underlined his country's commitment to an international coalition against terror, calling for the "complete ideological and political isolation" of international terrorists. He spoke in Berlin after meeting with German leaders.

Bush welcomed both actions in remarks to reporters at the White House after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. "I am most pleased that the Saudi Arabians yesterday cut off relations with the Taliban and that President Putin, in a strong statement, talked about the cooperation that the United States and Russia will have," he said.

He said Japan will "share intelligence that will work cooperatively" in the diplomatic war on terrorism." Two Japanese newspapers reported Japan will send warships to the Indian Ocean as early as this week to carry out intelligence and surveillance missions. The squadron may accompany the USS Kitty Hawk, an aircraft carrier that left its base near Tokyo on Friday, the reports said.

Fleischer announced that Bush would travel to Chicago on Thursday to pledge support for the battered airlines industry and urge Americans to resume normal spending practices.

He spoke as the Conference Board in New York was providing fresh evidence that Americans' concerns about an already weakened economy had been redoubled by the attacks. The New York-based business group said its Consumer Confidence Index sank to 97.6 from a revised 114 in August.

Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin met privately with the Senate Finance Committee, and said a stimulus amounting to 1 percent of the nation's gross domestic product would be a proper benchmark, according to senators and aides who attended the session.

There was also general agreement among the Democrats and Republicans that any stimulus should be temporary, perhaps limited to two or three years, to guard against negative long-term effects such as federal budget deficits and higher home mortgage rates.

At the White House, Gephardt said Bush was taking the right approach in targeting terrorist cells rather than civilians. He said that removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan is not necessarily a goal.

"I don't think it's anybody's goal to topple governments in this," Gephardt said. However, he added, the fact that the Taliban is supportive of bin Laden "gives us real pause, and obviously we'd like to change that position on their part."

Also in the meeting were House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Bush told reporters he and lawmakers he expected to meet later in the day with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to review airline security proposals to be put in place in the wake of this month's terror-hijackings. Asked about a proposal for putting military police on all planes, he said that was one of the topics that was discussed.

He also said that displaced workers would be "given due consideration in the halls of government," and that both the White House and Congress were developing their own ideas about how to respond.

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